SCOTUS Decision a Win for Copyright Owners

win for copyright

This morning, in the case Warner Chappell Music, Inc. v. Nealy, the Supreme Court decided how far back a plaintiff can recover damages for copyright infringement. The decision is a win for copyright owners.

A Decade of Infringement

The Copyright Act has a statute of limitations of three years, and it is generally agreed that this time begins to run from the moment a plaintiff discovers, or should have discovered, the infringement. The issue in this case is how far back can the damages calculation go? Nealy discovered the infringement and filed suit within three years of that discovery, but the infringement had been ongoing for a decade.

The District Court ruled that damages could also only go back three years, but the 11th Circuit reversed and held that damages can be calculated from the beginning of the infringement. This is known as the “discovery rule.” Today the Supreme Court upheld the discovery rule, allowing creators to obtain damages for infringements of their work for as long as the infringement has been running–as long as they file their infringement suit within three years of discovering the infringement.

This matters to you even if you never go to court., When you are negotiating with someone who used your work without permission, they now face the prospect of a larger damages award if they call your bluff and end up in litigation..

And remember, registration with the Copyright Office is required before you can file an infringement suit. So, whether you plan to sue or just want the option, get those works registered!